Q&A with Carlos Hernandez, author of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

Opening portals into other universes is the stuff kids dream of. Combine that with making new friends, dealing with school bullies, and loving family relationships and you have the charming new audiobook, Sal and Gabi Break the Universe.

We caught up with author Carlos Hernandez to tell us more about the story—and himself!


When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
It’s interesting—I remember getting to read a limerick I wrote over the intercom in first grade. Later, in elementary school, I got to read a few stories I’d written live on the AM radio station WQSA. In high school, I wrote stories about my friends having adventures and went to see writers discuss craft. I don’t know when I decided to be a writer, in part because I was already being a writer!

Tell us a little bit about your book.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is a funny book (I hope) that has a sad heart. Sal Vidón is left so distraught by the death of his mami that he rips a hole in the fabric of space so he can go looking for a mami from a different universe who can take her place. He uses this power to get himself out of trouble at his school by bringing a chicken into this universe and placing it in a bully’s locker. But his excuse of it being a magic trick doesn’t fool Gabi Reál, student council president and resident super-sleuth. She won’t stop until she figures out everything about Sal’s powers.

And that’s just the first few chapters! It’s a rollicking book, full of bonkers science fiction, great Cuban eats, and a lot of family love: both biological and chosen family.


Listen to a clip from Sal and Gabi Break the Universe:


Was there a character that you wrote who went through a transformation you didn’t expect?
To be honest? All of them! I’m definitely from the Pantser-not-Planner school of writing because I live for the surprises that emerge during the drafting process.

I’d imagined Sal to be a trickster and he certainly is one, but with a solid core of uncrossable ethics, which I didn’t know when I started. Gabi, I thought, would be an unshakable moral pillar, and she pretty much is…until her baby brother is sick in the hospital, and maybe she could bend the rules just once to help him. Really, I think you’ll be able to track the changes of many characters in the novel. Because I think that’s kind of what humans do all day long: transform.

When you’re writing, how do you transition from one character perspective to the next? Is there something you do to “switch gears”?
Great question. Since Sal and Gabi is written in the first person from Sal’s view, I don’t have to transition as far as I would have to if I were writing, say, a 3rd person limited novel that hops from one character mind to another character mind. I mostly need to know how Sal sees a person and go from there.

When Sal is quoting someone else’s words directly, though, I definitely have to break the cadence of Sal’s speech patterns in my head. Usually, that involves a mini writing break. Nothing like a window and a cup of coffee to clear the mind: especially if I am using that time to reacquaint myself with the character whose voice I need to write.

Did listening to your audiobook change the way you experienced the story or the characters you had written?
My wife is an audiobook narrator, so I have tremendous respect for the actors who narrate books! It is such a uniquely difficult kind of acting, where you have to voice dozens of characters and pronounce words clearly, yet with personality. I am so grateful I was given the chance to help audition Anthony Rey Perez because he’s terrific: he has a friendly Latino voice and a terrific command of Spanish and English that made him a natural for this book.

To answer your (excellent!) question specifically, listening to a professional actor read my words back to me let me experience my own novel the way a reader would! Because Mr. Perez has to make choices about what sentences mean, his perspective on the text gives me a whole new way to experience it.

Is there a certain book, movie, voice, or author that was transformative for you?
So many! Let me just pick, for the sake of brevity, a few: Ursula Le Guin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Michael Chabon, Katherine Dunn, Octavia Butler, Rudolfo Anaya, Rabelais, Gabriel García-Márquez, Flannery O’Connor, Christina Garcia, Miguel de Cervantes, and most recently, C. S. E. Cooney, who wooed me so thoroughly with her writing that, reader, I married her.


See all the great buzz about Sal and Gabi Break the Universe:

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

“This book, drenched in Cuban Spanish and personality, is a breath of fresh air.”—Kirkus, starred review

“A nonstop sense of wonder accompanies a genuinely heartwarming and humorous tone, and Sal and Gabi are clearly a fictional team destined for greatness.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Hernandez offers a rip-roaring and emotionally resonant sci-fi adventure.” —School Library Journal